Posted on: October 13, 2011 8:05 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
For reasons detailed earlier today in this space, Ole Miss already had a near-impossible task in beating Alabama this Saturday. And now the Rebels have made that task even more difficult for themselves.
Houston Nutt announced after the Rebels' Thursday practice that four players will be suspended for the Alabama game for a violation of team rules: running back Brandon Bolden, offensive linemen Alex Washington and A.J. Hawkins, and receiver Philander Moore.
Moore likely won't be missed; the sophomore has only three receptions this season for a total of one yard. And though a bruising 335-pound second-string senior, Washington likely wouldn't have seen the field without an injury to either Bradley Sowell or Bobby Massie, the Rebels' starting tackles.
But whatever tiny flickering hope the Rebels had for putting together a running game against the Tide may have evaporated with the other two suspensions. Bolden is a decorated senior who'd only recently returned from injury and is easily the Rebels' most powerful runner; Hawkins is Ole Miss's starting center, one with 16 starts in two seasons under his belt. With leading rusher Jeff Scott a poor matchup against the physical Tide due to his smaller stature and Hawkins unavailable, there seems little question the Rebel ground game will be at less than its best--and even its best might not have gotten much accomplished against the Tide.
Which means maybe the most interesting question still to be answered about this game is where on Nutt's locker room motivational chart the four suspended players fall. Could the World of the Uninvested be very far away?
Posted on: October 13, 2011 3:27 pm
Edited on: October 13, 2011 3:33 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
The old saying goes that if you have two (or in Ole Miss's case, three) quarterbacks, you don't have any. But Houston Nutt has noted correctly this week that having depth at that position isn't so bad when you're preapring to face this year's version of Alabama.
“If you watch teams that have played Alabama the last few weeks, their quarterbacks have not been in the games very long," Nutt said. And he's right: neither Florida's John Brantley nor Vanderbilt's Larry Smith have been able to make it out of the first half with their health intact.
Those kinds of worries are why the Rebels' hometown Clarion-Ledger got in touch with a handful of NFL scouts, to find out exactly what Ole Miss would be dealing with. Any Rebel fans still harboring hopes for the Upset of the Season Saturday should start looking away ... now:
"I had seen them on TV and on tape, but I was down on the field before they played Arkansas," said one NFL team's chief talent evaluator. "They really look like an NFL team. You hear people say that, but with them it's true. That defense is huge, bigger than most NFL teams. Not just the linemen, but the cornerbacks, the linebackers, the safeties. And they can all run. That secondary ... it's the best secondary I've ever seen in college football" ...
You get the point: if Alabama's defense was a woman, NFL scouts would be lined up outside its door, flowers, choclates and rings in hand. They estimate to the Clarion-Ledger that more than half the Tide's starters -- "six or seven" players -- could go in the NFL draft's first three rounds.
Frankly, it all sounds a little on the hyperbolic side, and getting that excited about the Tide D maybe does a disservice to the defense down the road in Baton Rouge, which has more than a few athletes of its own. (One scout does refer to the LSU D as "comparable, but younger.") But that doesn't mean the ultimate point is wrong: Alabama is very, very good, and they have many, many players who will play on Sundays. At the least, Ole Miss won't be able to say they weren't warned.
Posted on: October 2, 2011 1:32 am
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
The gap between the Big Two and the Smaller Ten is even wider than we thought. Last week in this space, we wrote that Alabama and LSU were the top two teams in the SEC and that no one else was close. That's not exactly right; the Crimson Tide and Bayou Bengals are indeed the top two teams, but no one else is even within the same stratosphere.
After all, if there was ever a situation where one team or the other was going to be challenged, it was going to be Saturday night in Gainesville, right? The Tide were on the road, at an undefeated Florida team, in prime-time, in an atmosphere just about as hostile as it's possible to have in college football and they fell behind 7-0 in the first 20 seconds ... and casually laughed all of it off on their way to a 38-10 romp.
So who's going to challenge either of those Big Two? The Gators have already been crushed by one and may not have John Brantley for the other. Arkansas? Kudos for their resilience today, but they also looked overmatched in their one attempt and gave up 381 yards rushing (628 total) vs. Texas A&M. South Carolina looks totally lost (see below), but not so lost they couldn't beat Georgia in Athens. Tennessee? Lost to Florida. Auburn? Still the same team that needed a miracle to beat Utah State.
We don't want to write things that look silly later, so for now we'll hold off on declaring the potential college football Game of the Year Nov. 5 between the Tide and Tigers a mortal lock to decide the SEC champion. But it may not be long until it looks silly to write anything else.
The Sports Illustrated curse has its first victim, and that victim is South Carolina. Back in August, we detailed how teams that have a player or players appear on the Sports Illustrated college football preview cover wind up limping to disappointing seasons more often than not. Unfortunately for the Gamecocks, Alshon Jeffery was one of those players this year.
And so surprise, surprise, guess who's well on their way to playing out exactly that disappointment. It's not just the loss to Auburn, either; after the big first-half deficit to East Carolina, the wheeze past Navy, the "putrid" offensive display against Vanderbilt, the only thing left to complete the Gamecock backslide was the nigh-inexplicable loss at home to a double-digit underdog coming off a 316-yard display against hapless FAU. Arguably the most surprising thing about the Tiger victory today was how unsurprising the rest of Carolina's season had already made it.
2011 was supposed to the confirmation of the lessons of 2010, that the old bait-and-switch Gamecocks were gone and the new East-winning, top-15, nationally-relevant Gamecocks were here to stay. Instead, 2011 has seemed to confirm that South Carolina is still South Carolina: talented, dangerous, capable of big things ... but always too erratic, too unfocused to accomplish them. It must particularly rankle to have that confirmed against Auburn, which beat Carolina twice last season. That the Tigers lost seemingly half their roster while the Gamecocks returned the likes of Jeffery, Marcus Lattimore, Devin Taylor and the incredible Melvin Ingram -- not to mention a senior quarterback coming off his best season yet -- should have turned the tables. But even at home, even with Auburn committing four turnovers, even with Barrett Trotter utterly unable to complete a pass longer than five yards downfield, the tables stayed unturned.
There's still time to turn things around and get to Atlanta, thanks to John Brantley's injury potentially crippling the Florida offense and the tiebreak over Georgia. But if not? If we're a Carolina fan, we're blaming SI.
Mississippi State is in a similar, even-leakier boat. The Bulldogs were also looking to 2011 as the season they proved their old haunts at or near the SEC West cellar were behind them, thanks to an offense that returned nine starters and had another year of Dan Mullen's tutelage under it. But that offense hit its lowest point yet in what looks like another ho-hum season, going without an offensive touchdown at Georgia and scoring just three points in a dispirited (and dispiriting) 24-10 loss. Coming only a week after only putting up 20 regulation points against Lousiana Tech -- and given that Georgia's not exactly a defensive juggernaut just yet -- something appears to be seriously amiss with Mullen's unit. When the schedule still offers visits from Carolina and Alabama and a trip to Arkansas, he'd better have it fixed in a hurry--or his team could be one upset loss from missing the postseason entirely.
The SEC's roster of Heisman candidates goes much deeper than Marcus Lattimore. One less-than-overpowering performance from the big sophomore shouldn't douse his Heisman hopes too badly, but it did open up the floor for the rest of the league's stars to make their statements ... and they did.
Trent Richardson put his slow 2011 start even further behind him with a punishing 181-yard, 2-touchdown performance. Tyrann Mathieu further cemented his status as the leading defensive candidate with another highlight-reel play -- a quarterback strip, fumble recovery, and touchdown return -- as well as keying another lockdown performance from the LSU secondary. Tyler Wilson isn't on anyone's shortlist yet, but a few more 510-yard passing days might change that. Melvin Ingram had an absurd game, collecting 3.5 sacks, 4.5 tackles-for-loss and an interception. And it seems unfair to mention Lattimore without also mentioning Michael Dyer, the Auburn running back who outrushed him 141-to-66 Saturday -- grinding out many of those yards in the face of poor blocking and a second-half ankle sprain -- and has now outrushed him 305-183 over their three head-to-head meetings.
For all that, if the Heisman vote were held today, Lattimore would still likely top the SEC's list. (As badly as his team is struggling, where on earth would it be without him?) But the SEC's roster of stars is deep enough that that could change as soon as next week.
Houston Nutt won't be fired this week. He still has a long way to go to guarantee himself a spot on the Ole Miss sideline in 2012. But flying cross-country to get a 10-point win over a likely bowl team in Fresno State isn't a bad first step.
Tags: Alabama, Alshon Jeffery, Arkansas, Auburn, Barrett trotter, Dan Mullen, Devin Taylor, East Carolina, FAU, Florida, Fresno State, Georgia, Houston Nutt, Jerry Hinnen, John Brantley, Louisiana Tech, LSU, Marcus Lattimore, Melvin Ingram, Michael Dyer, Mississippi State, Navy, Ole Miss, SEC, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Trent Richardson, Tyler Wilson, Tyrann Mathieu, Utah State, Vanderbilt, What I Learned
Posted on: September 30, 2011 4:20 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Running down everything you need to know from the current news in the SEC, courtesy of our CBSSports.com RapidReporters (and others).
SOUTH CAROLINA. It doesn't seem possible that Marcus Lattimore could take on even more of a burden for the Gamecock offense, but that's how things look as his team prepares for Saturday's visit from Auburn. Lattimore's top two backups are both doubtful for the game with injuries; Kenny Miles is struggling with a sprained wrist, third-stringer Eric Baker might miss the game as well, and freshman Shon Carson tore his ACL in mid-September. Freshman Brandon Wilds could be the only scholarship running back available for Steve Spurrier other than Lattimore, but even if Baker is healthy, the junior has just five carries combined the previous three seasons.
Lattimore already leads the nation in rushing attempts with a whopping 26.75 per game. But given the problems Carolina must deal with when either anyone other then Lattimore rushes the ball or Stephen Garcia drops back to pass, that workload doesn't seem likely at all to decrease this week.
In other Gamecock news, true freshman receiver Damiere Byrd will make his long-awaited debut this week after all. His four-game NCAA suspension has been served, but in midweek Spurrier said he hadn't been "cleared" just yet. Now he has.
AUBURN. If the Gamecocks start to feel sorry for themselves, though, all they'll have to do is look to the opposite sideline this week. After already losing receiver Trovon Reed to a shoulder injury for this week and possibly longer, the Tigers also confirmed this week that defensive end Dee Ford will miss the remainder of the season with a herniated disk. Though technically a backup, Ford was the only junior in the entire Tiger defensive line's two-deep; his spot in the rotation will be filled by two players with a combined 23 career snaps.
It's those kinds of defensive issues that have forced Gene Chizik and Gus Malzahn to slow down Malzahn's preferred up-tempo style during his Auburn tenure; the Tigers have averaged only one more play per-game under Malzahn than they did in the 12 seasons before his arrival.
OLE MISS. Things in Oxford are ugly off the field, with the Ole Miss chancellor himself writing open letters in response to anonymous "threats" and the Rebel community seemingly divided over the status of athletic director Pete Boone and coach Houston Nutt. But they might be even uglier on it right now, which is why Randall Mackey seems set to become the Rebels' third starter under center in five games as the Rebels travel to take on Fresno State.
And speaking of ugly, more than a few wags on Twitter had something to say about Nutt's decision to wear a flat-brimmed blue baseball cap during his team's loss to Georgia. He explained himself in straightforward fashion this week: he wanted to protect his face from the sun, and he couldn't wear both his preferred straw hat and a headset at the same time. Works for us.
ARKANSAS. Even after losing Tenarius Wright for 4-to-6 weeks, there is some good news for the Hogs on the injury front. Senior corner Isaac Madison is expected to play against Texas A&M after leaving the Alabama game with an injury, and running back Broderick Green has made startling progress from the ACL tear suffered during spring practice--so much progress that Green is already practicing and is now expected before the season's end, possibly as soon as this week.
On the downside, defensive coordinator Willy Robinson is less-than-thrilled with the performance of senior safety Tramain Thomas at the moment. "I'm not going to sit down there and allow what was going on during the course of the game to continue, so I made a switch there," Robinson said of pulling Thomas against Alabama. "This week he knows he's under fire, and he'd better give us better effort."
ELSEWHERE: Nick Saban said five-star running back recruit Dee Hart has made substantial progress since preseason ACL surgery, but remains highly likely to redshirt ... Vanderbilt starting linebacker Tristan Strong will miss the rest of the 2011 season after tearing an ACL against South Carolina. He was third on the team in tackles ...
Georgia linebacker Christian Robinson is expecting to play "15-20 plays" in his return from injury. His partner in rehab? None other than Barbara Dooley, who Robinson promised he'd wear Derek Dooley-style orange pants if his Dawgs beat Derek's Vols later this season ... After initially asking to leave the team, Bulldog backup running back Ken Malcome changed his mind and rejoined the squad on Thursday ...
Tennessee freshman running back and returner Devrin Young is set to make his season debut after missing the Volunteers' first three games with a broken collarbone ... Fans at the Vols' game against Buffalo will be able to wave pink shakers in exhcnage for a donation to breast cancer research ... Mississippi State isn't unhappy with defensive tackles Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd, but would like to see more production from them all the same ... Why, yes, Kentucky offensive coordinator Randy Sanders is "frustrated" with his team's offensive struggles. We doubt you're surprised.
Tags: Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Barbara Dooley, Brandon Wilds, Broderick Green, Buffalo, Christian Robinson, Damiere Byrd, Dee Ford, Dee Hart, Derek Dooley, Devrin Young, Eric Baker, Fletcher Cox, Fresno State, Gene Chizik, Georgia, Gus Malzahn, Houston Nutt, Isaac Madison, Jerry Hinnen, Josh Boyd, Ken Malcome, Kenny Miles, Kentucky, Marcus Lattimore, Mississippi State, NCAA, Nick Saban, Ole Miss, Pete Boone, Randall Mackey, Randy Sanders, RapidReport Roundup, SEC, Shon Carson, South Carolina, Stephen Garcia, Steve Spurrier, Tenarius Wright, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Tramain Thomas, Tristan Strong, Trovon Reed, Vanderbilt, Willy Robinson
Posted on: September 25, 2011 4:06 am
Edited on: September 25, 2011 4:11 am
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
1. LSU and Alabama are the SEC's No. 1 and No. 2, or No. 2 and No. 1, and no one else is close. Yes: Arkansas could recover from today's beatdown in Tuscaloosa and still head to Baton Rouge at the end of the year with a chance to sneak off with the West title. Yes: South Carolina has the league's best player in Marcus Lattimore and more than enough weapons on both sides of the ball to beat anyone, LSU and 'Bama included, if Stephen Garcia's head is screwed on correctly. Yes: with Charlie Weis rediscovering the Gators' lost running attack behind Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, Florida looks like the most dangerous team in the East and could do anything in the Atlanta one-off.
But until one of those teams actually beats one of the two Goliaths currently standing atop the conference, we're going to assume the gap between LSU and Alabama and the rest of the conference is even wider than it was purported to be at season's beginning. In fact, this blogger would argue these are the two teams that belong atop the polls as the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the nation.
Why? LSU has the best overall body of work of any team in the FBS, having beaten three ranked teams away from the friendly confines of Death Valley. And if Mississippi State doesn't look like they're going to live up to their preseason ranking, beating Oregon and West Virginia by a combined 39 points (and largely throttling a Duck offense that's rolled in its usual fashion ever since) should only look better as the season progresses.
But if LSU has the best body of work, it's Alabama that after Saturday has the single most impressive performance of the season. Not many SEC fans have doubts about Arkansas's offensive personnel (running back excepted), and even fewer would question Bobby Petrino's offensive scheming. But the Tide made the Hog attack look utterly ordinary, all while showing off the kind of explosiveness in the offensive backfield (hi, Trent Richardson!) and special teams (hey, Marquis Maze!) that should give them all the scoring firepower they'll need. If Arkansas goes on to be the top-15 team they've been supposed to be this offseason -- and we don't see any reason to doubt them yet -- then drubbing that top-15 team by 24 points that felt like 44 makes for the best single-game showing of the year so far.
So ... which do you choose? The team that's flashed the highest ceiling, or the team with the best scalps on the wall? We don't know. And fortunately, we don't have to choose--their meeting on Nov. 5 (barring an upset between now and then) will choose for us. We just know that choosing any other SEC team at this point is denying the obvious.
2. Florida is the East favorite, and Stephen Garcia is the reason. It's not that the Gators wiped the floor with Kentucky, though their willingness to keep the pedal to the proverbial metal was impressive. (They do wipe the floor with the 'Cats every year, after all.) It's not that the Gamecocks' issues in the secondary can't be overcome -- after collecting a pair of key sack-and-strips against Vanderbilt, Jadeveon Clowney can apparently do a lot of the overcoming by himself -- or that the slow start for Alshon Jeffery can't become a fast finish if he gets better quarterbacking.
What it is is, well, that quarterbacking. Garcia didn't just throw four interceptions Saturday against the 'Dores; he threw four awful, braindead, hilarious, Steve Spurrier aneurysm-inducing interceptions. Vandy has an outstanding secondary, but when you run straight backwards on 3rd-and-15 and blindly launch a pass so aimless and floated even the Wounded Duck Association of America immediately asks to be disassociated from it (as Garcia did for his first), an outstanding secondary isn't necessary. Garcia was terrible, plain-and-simple, and frankly lucky he hadn't already been pulled by the time Connor Shaw entered in the fourth quarter.
South Carolina can do a lot of things even when Garcia is terrible. They can do even more if he's hovering around "passable." (Like beat Georgia, for instance.) But they can't win the East if he's not playing somewhere near the top of his game, and judging by Saturday's performance, the top of his game is far, far away from him.
3. The SEC West might not be quite that brutal. Is it still the roughest, toughest division in college football? Probably. But part of its preseason reputation was due to the presence of both Auburn and Mississippi State in the preseason polls, and right now neither squad is playing like they deserve so much as a spot at the bottom of the "Also Receiving Votes" barrel.
The Bulldogs were supposed to lick their wounds this week against Louisiana Tech after crushing losses to Auburn and LSU. But the Bulldogs from Ruston nearly inflicted the biggest wound yet, tying the game at 20 on a late field goal and driving to the State 20 with under four minutes to play before a Garciaesque interception from true freshman QB Nick Isham ended the threat. Another pick would help MSU escape in overtime, despite Tech's 359-340 yardage advantage.
But at least hard-luck Tech had already taken Southern Miss and Houston to the wire. FAU hadn't scored a touchdown in their two games, losing to Florida and Michigan State by a combined score of 85-3. And yet the Owls found themselves down just 10-6 to Auburn at halftime and finished the game with just eight fewer yards. While most of the frustration from Auburn fans has been centered on the Tiger defense, this time it was the offense doing most of the struggling, as they finished with just 315 total yards (the second-lowest total of Gus Malzahn's tenure) and two offensive touchdowns.
Both teams will no doubt play much better games against competition they take more seriously, in weeks where they're not recovering from emotional losses. But even if they do, neither the Bulldogs nor Tigers currently look like a threat to any of the five teams at the top of either division.
4. Houston Nutt's odds of coaching in 2012 are now less than 50/50. A 27-13 home loss to Georgia isn't great no matter how you slice it. But the Rebels' performance was even more deflating than the scoreline suggests. The Dawgs outgained their hosts by nearly 300 yards (475 to 183), held them without a second-half point, and only kept them in the game via Blair Walsh's uncharacteristic three missed field goals. The Rebel passing game continued to be the sorest of sore spots, as Zack Stoudt and Randall Mackey combined to complete just 12 of their 30 passes for just 149 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. If not for an 82-yard punt return reverse for a touchdown pulled out of Nutt's bag, the Rebels likely would have finished in the single digits in scoring for a second straight week.
So maybe it looked better on the scoreboard than the 30-7 defeat at Vandy. But Ole Miss still didn't offer any reason to think they're not on their way to 1-7 (or worse) in the SEC.
Tags: Alabama, Alshon Jeffery, Arkansas, Auburn, Blair Walsh, Bobby Petrino, Charlie Weis, Chris Rainey, Connor Shaw, FAU, Florida, Georgia, Gus Malzahn, Houston, Houston Nutt, Jadeveon Clowney, Jeff Demps, Jerry Hinnen, Kentucky, Louisiana Tech, LSU, Marcus Lattimore, Marquis Maze, Michigan State, Mississippi State, Nick Isham, Ole Miss, Oregon, Randall Mackey, SEC, South Carolina, Southern Miss, Stephen Garcia, Steve Spurrier, Trent Richardson, Vanderbilt, West Virginia, Zack Stoudt
Posted on: September 25, 2011 4:05 am
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Posted on: September 25, 2011 4:02 am
Edited on: September 25, 2011 4:15 am
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Posted on: September 20, 2011 1:49 pm
Edited on: September 20, 2011 4:00 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
We wrote Saturday that after Ole Miss's inexplicable 30-7 loss to Vanderbilt, Houston Nutt had eclipsed Mark Richt as the SEC coach on the hottest seat in the league. Unfortunately for Nutt, the actions of Rebel athletic director Pete Boone since that defeat have done nothing to disprove that assumption.
Monday, Boone took the highly unusual step of speaking at Nutt's Monday press conference, preceding his coach's remarks with some 13 minutes of commentary on the Rebels' predicament. "[Nutt is] committed to correcting some of the issues that he sees are correctable and fixable within the program," Boone said. "And that's what his job is, and that's what he'll be doing."
"I appreciate Pete Boone meeting with the staff and myself, appreciate what he did the last 24 hours," Nutt said (not all that convincingly, in our opinion). "But now bottom line is that it's up to us as coaches, as players to do our jobs."
Boone's appearance at the press conference might be viewed as the dreaded "vote of confidence" that so often signals the beginning of the end for an embattled coach, but Nutt would no doubt take that over Boone's other action in those "24 hours": sending an open letter to Ole Miss fans that asked for support but also called the loss to Vanderbilt "unacceptable." Courtesy of the Clarion-Ledger, an excerpt:
Is there any doubt that "we discussed several areas that needed improvement" is administrator-speak for "I told him to quit embarrassing himself, or else"?
There's two things that might save Nutt's job even in the event the season continues to turn sour: that his back-to-back Cotton Bowl championships remain a nearly-unprecedented feat for the Rebels since the Archie Manning days, and that he has a substantial buyout (thanks to the ever-ingenious machinations of agent Jimmy Sexton) that the Rebels -- already in the midst of a sizable fund-raising campaign to upgrade both the basketball and football facilities -- may not be able to afford.
But it won't help Nutt that Boone may be under a little bit of pressure, too. Though likely only a vocal minority of Ole Miss fans, a group calling itself "Forward Rebels" took out ads in multiple newspapers (including, again, the Clarion-Ledger) after the Vandy debacle claiming that "the Ole Miss administration is the problem":
For a full-size version, click here, but know it's not Nutt the ad is referring to when it says "our leadership has failed us."
Again, that's not to say Boone is under that much heat at this time. But if his coach continues to struggle to the point that either Nutt goes or they both do, we suspect Boone will do his best to find the money for the buyout ... and that the pain of that search likely explains why he's making no secret of his desire to see Nutt turn things around as quickly as possible.
Ad image HT: Friends of the Program.